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Singapore ties with Italy in having most women as CEOs: Global study

SINGAPORE — In a new global study, Singapore has tied with Italy for top spot in having the highest proportion of companies with women as chief executive officers (CEOs).

In both Singapore and Italy, 15 per cent of companies are helmed by women, the highest rate in the world, a new study found.

In both Singapore and Italy, 15 per cent of companies are helmed by women, the highest rate in the world, a new study found.

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SINGAPORE — In a new global study, Singapore has tied with Italy for top spot in having the highest proportion of companies with women as chief executive officers (CEOs).

In both countries, 15 per cent of firms are headed by female CEOs — but some Singapore women’s groups said that the country should be doing far better given the number of well-educated, highly competent women here.

In Thailand, 9 per cent of firms were headed by female CEOs, and it was 8 per cent in the Philippines.

The report, CS Gender 3000, was published by financial services giant Credit Suisse on Friday (Oct 11) and was conducted by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, the company's in-house think-tank. 

The study looked at the state of gender equality in companies and involved more than 3,000 companies across 56 countries as well as 30,000 executive positions. 

Singapore ranked fourth in terms of women in the position of chief financial officer, at 28 per cent, behind Thailand at 42 per cent, Taiwan at 30 per cent and Malaysia at 29 per cent.

The study found that Singapore's boardroom diversity has improved markedly since 2015, with the proportion of women on boards improving from 10.8 per cent then to 18.4 per cent this year.

In terms of overall gender diversity in management, Singapore came in sixth at 23 per cent. The Philippines took top spot, followed by Thailand, Sweden, Australia and Malaysia.

The institute’s previous reports found strong correlations between boardroom diversity and share price performance and profitability, though they did not assert cause and effect.

The cash flow returns on investment were 2.04 per cent higher for companies with a higher proportion of female senior managers, the institute found.


Ms Margaret Thomas, president of Singapore women’s rights group Aware, said that the 15 per cent indicates that there is still much room for improvement. “In terms of competence, there is no good reason why there should not be many more women CEOs in Singapore," she said.

Ms Junie Foo, first vice-president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations and chair of BoardAgender, agreed: “We are not surprised that Singapore is topping this list. n fact, we are surprised that it is not higher as we have educated, competent, extremely capable women.”

BoardAgender is an initiative to create awareness on the benefits of gender diversity in leadership roles in companies.

Ms Thomas noted that Singapore boards were 18.4 per cent female, below the global average of 20.6 per cent. “This could be a reason why we don’t have an even higher proportion of women CEOs. Male-dominated boards might be inclined to look for male CEOs.”

When asked about how the situation could be improved, she said: “There could well be many more women in the top management positions if, especially early in their careers, they had more access to flexible work arrangements and other support for childcare and eldercare needs.”

Ms Thomas added that women are still expected to shoulder the bulk of the burden of caregiving, which could impede on the opportunities to develop their career.

“We need a major shift in societal attitudes, and much clearer government policies and schemes to get employers to adopt flexible work arrangements — both for men and women.”


The institute also conducted a survey of 120 family-owned companies, and found that a greater share of female executives correlated with a greater focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, on environmental, social and governance issues.

Ms Thomas said that boosting female representation to achieve these outcomes is particularly important. “This is what the world desperately needs now — responsible business practices. The unfettered pursuit of profits cannot go on. We need businesses to be paying much more attention to the environment and other implications.

“The benefits of having more women in top management positions and on boards are clear — the company enjoys stronger growth, higher margins, and better share price performance. Plus, there is that very important matter of responsible, sustainable business practices. We really need more women running businesses, not just in Singapore but throughout the world.”

Ms Foo added that BoardAgender identified some points that would increase diversity in directorship, one of which was prompting smaller companies to keep up with ways of increasing diversity.

She said: “Mid- and small-cap companies need to up their game . Large cap companies are leading in terms of diversity, and mid and small companies need to make more effort to do so.”

She added that shortening directorship tenure would improve the chances for new female directors to be appointed.

Related topics

gender diversity CEO research

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